Reading for me is like hanging round the dessert table at a big buffet. Searching, sampling, selecting, and of course, periodically gorging to satisfy my powerful sweet tooth. Similarly, my book and reading choices are often guided by self-questions like: Where to begin? When I have I read enough? Am I ready to walk away for a while?
That last question is a critical one because it has to do with the main goal of any school’s reading program: Creating avid readers who eagerly self-select reading material and develop lifelong reading habits.
I wasn’t always an avid reader. And now, I’m a fickle reader, sometimes having half a dozen books scattered around the house (and in my smartphone) at all times. Sometimes, I binge a single book, but mostly I am utterly capricious about my reading, selecting something to peruse based on my mood. Yet when hooked, I carry the chosen book around like it’s an appendage. And it might come as a surprise to learn that sometimes I go long periods without reading any books. In those instances, my erratic engagements in book reading fades and I stay busy with other activities for a while.
Now, the whole reason for pointing out my personal book reading strangeness is that everyone seems to have their very own unique approach to self-selected book reading—including kids. Acknowledging this potential in every student, teachers have pretty much one duty: teaching children to joyfully self-express in their book and reading choices, including the times when they read. It includes not just teaching children to develop independent and idiosyncratic reading tastes and habits, but also offering children the real choice of NOT READING RIGHT NOW during SSR.* That could be a pause mid-chapter in a book they have already started, or it could be a hiatus from book reading that could last a while.
Now, us teachers could demand/require/force kids to read when they don’t want to…or we could busy ourselves in spiffing up the literacy dessert table and adding a few more delicacies and treats to appeal to the reluctant or indifferent readers.** I recommend the latter.
When teachers are interested in every child reading the same book to tee up a lesson on author’s craft or the uniqueness of that particular book, a better tack to take is to read that book aloud to the class and to recruit your choosy readers to join into the conversation. Over time that works.
This might be an offensive notion to folks who are dedicated to developing children who are constant, avid readers of their personal selections, like me, but only sometimes. However, if we are to promote TRULY independent reading, we have to expect that on some days some youngsters just won’t be interested in reading…anything. Period. The End.
**E.g. children who have never read a “home run” book.